A noted professor's son, the erudite Jost Amman chose printmaking over scholarship but always maintained contacts in humanist circles. He may have apprenticed in Basel or Zurich and probably also studied in Paris and Lyon.
In 1561 Amman settled in Nuremberg, where he worked with Virgil Solis. After Solis's death in 1562, Amman began a lifelong partnership with Solis's publisher, adapting himself to every task and changing his style according to his employer's demands. The era's most prolific book illustrator, Amman illustrated at least fifty books for him alone. These projects included biblical compositions, widely reprinted scenes of tradespeople, and an artists' instruction book; many served as pattern books for later artists. He also made ornamental designs and etchings, including over a hundred portraits for an aristocratic Nuremberg family. A pupil said that Amman's drawings from one four-year period would have filled a hay wagon.
By 1581 Amman was famous. He painted the Elector Ludwig VI on his deathbed in Heidelberg, designed the Würzburg University church portal, and taught drawing to an English earl. He also designed stained glass and jewelry. Still he lived in constant poverty. Shortly before his death, knowing that estate taxes would bankrupt his family, he plead with rich relatives in Zurich for help.